Asylum seekers hotels Coronavirus

Asylum seekers’ lives ‘put at risk’ by decision to move them to hotels

Hundreds of asylum seekers claim their lives are being put at risk after they were moved out of their flats and into Glasgow hotels where they are unable to isolate to protect themselves from coronavirus.

Financial support of £35 per week has been stopped by the Home Office and replaced with communal meals, eaten alongside others in the hotel dining rooms.

A video provided to The Ferret shows that many door handles at the hotels must be pulled open en route to meals. Another shows a tea and coffee station where, it is claimed, everyone must open the same coffee jar and pour water from a shared urn.

The Ferret understands that over 500 asylum seekers, who include new arrivals and those on emergency section 4 support, are being housed in three city centre hotels.

They include asylum seekers living in Mears Group flats in Glasgow, others newly entitled to accommodation from the provider, as well as those being bussed into the city from across the UK.

The first moves started two weeks ago, but some people were still being moved on Wednesday 22 April. The Ferret was told that one family has been moved, despite assurances given to charities that none would be affected.

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Concerns have been raised that Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

On 20 April new data from NHS England revealed they accounted for 16 per cent of positive tests, though only 7.5 per cent of the population is Asian and three per cent black.

Asylum seekers told The Ferret they were contacted without notice by housing provider Mears Group, which took over the housing contract from Serco last September, and told they had 20 minutes to pack all their belongings for the move.

They claim they were picked up in a van with others who they did not know, and that no masks were provided. However a spokesperson for Mears Group said they followed government health advice.

In some cases ‘Aspen’ debit cards on to which asylum support of £35 a week is paid had already stopped working. In others support was terminated after arrival at the hotel, leaving people without any access to cash for essentials like sanitary products or toiletries, phone top-ups, paracetamol or clothing.

Three meals a day are provided at the hotels, which must be eaten in the shared dining room at set times. It is claimed that social distancing measures are not being respected in corridors, elevators or dinning rooms. Others are fearful that they may pick up the virus from door handles and elevator buttons used by all residents on their way to meals.

One man told The Ferret he and his brother had been moved to a city centre hotel 12 days ago. He estimates about 75 other asylum seekers are staying there.

They had been living in a two-bedroom Glasgow flat provided by Mears Group since they arrived in the UK in December.

“A man from Mears came to the door and said there was an order by the Home Office to move us to a hotel,” he said. “He told me: “You have 10-30 mins to pack. I have been here for five months that was not possible for me.”

In the end he left after less than two hours, leaving some food – which he is unable to cook in the hotel – behind.

He was picked up in a van, with two other men. While a board separated the driver, there was no protection provided for the passengers.

Now, his support has stopped and communal meals are provided in the hotel dining room. The rest of their time is spent in their rooms. “Everything has got much worse for us since we moved here,” he said. “We have to go down to the dining room and we all have to touch the same doors.”

“It’s like being in jail,” added the man. “Everybody feels the same. We spend all day in our rooms but we don’t want to sleep. We don’t know what we are doing here.

“It feels like no-one cares. We have been abandoned.”

Another man, who asked to be known only as Mohamed, said that he was moved on 21 April into a city-centre hotel where over 100 other asylum seekers were being housed.

He has previously been self-isolating at a flat provided by Positive Action in Housing but after his application for emergency support – known as Section 4 – was approved by the Home Office on the grounds that he is unable to travel, he was put in a hotel.

“I thought my situation was going to get better but it’s worse,” he said. “No-one here has any gloves, we still use the elevator. It makes no sense. I’ve seen pregnant women staying here too, and it’s them I feel really sorry for.

“From here I can go for a walk down to the river but that’s it – then I’m back to my room. We are just stuck here and nobody is communicating anything. We don’t have any money for phone tops or anything.”

Gary Christie, head of policy at Scottish Refugee Council said many people had been moved without “proper explanation” of why they had to leave, and how long they would be moved for.

“It’s confusing and frightening for people and raises serious concerns about how the Home Office communicates and shares vital information,” he said.

“People can’t stay in hotels forever. We need to know how the Home Office plans to accommodate people when lockdown restrictions ease so charities, local authorities and other partners can support any further moves.

“We’re also really concerned that people in hotels are not receiving cash support that’s needed for phone top ups and other essentials. We’re seeking urgent answers on this from the Home Office.”

Ana Santamarina, an activist from the No Evictions Network supporting asylum seekers, said that many people had phoned to say they were frightened by the lack of social distancing measures. Others reported that their support had stopped.

She called for the situation to be urgently resolved. “People want to be back in their homes,” she told The Ferret. “They feel so disempowered – they can’t even take decisions like what or when they eat. They need to have their asylum support back.

“This virus disproportionately affects a vulnerable population, and this is making people even more vulnerable.”

A spokesman for Mears Group said the decision was made due to a shortage of suitable accommodation.

He added: “Mears had been utilising short term let accommodation in Glasgow to house new applicants into the city whilst they were supported prior to move into a more long term accommodation pending a decision on their application for Asylum.

“Unfortunately with the current Covid-19 emergency the ability to move people on in the time they are allowed to be in these short lets was severely limited due to restrictions on the property market and general movement within the service.

“Therefore we had no alternative but to procure hotel space where we can safely and appropriately house and support each person with food and health services without restriction on time of residence.

“All movement of the people concerned was undertaken in accordance with health authority guidance on social distancing and use of personal protective equipment. The safety and wellbeing of each person is paramount and Mears are working hard to ensure we meet all obligations at this very difficult time.”

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said, as far as the council was aware, the use of hotels had been agreed for new arrivals. She added: “We would expect people to be able to adhere to the lockdown and guidance on social distancing in any accommodation provided.”

A Home Office spokesperson said:”We are only moving asylum seekers where it is necessary, strictly following guidance from public health authorities, and into accommodation that ensures social distancing. This is to help stop the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.”

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